Sex is incredibly scary and complex.
For ages, I didn't know what to think about it all. My vagina's awakening began under 2 Become 1 in the charts; I came to understand tea bagging, anal and how some men like to pee on you through Sex and the City.
I lost my virginity at 14, to an older boy from school, and then I didn't do it again for a very long time. I entered a long-term relationship when I was barely the age of consent, staying with the same fella through graduation, travelling half of the world, and co-habiting when we were still so naïve that I had to call my mum to ask where the detergent went in the washing machine.
Then, in the sudden singledom of my early twenties, I thought I was an Independent Woman who could "screw like a man" and still function as a human being. I couldn't.
Once upon a time I prided myself on knowing that the easiest way to sleep with a bloke was simple: ask. That fella I moved in with when I had just turned 19? He left me after six years together to get married to my best friend, and it sent me bonkers. I became a sexual predator to cope; it was quickly normal for me to identify prey then do anything to get that prey home. I thought it was very modern of me, but it wasn't. It was fucked up, is what it was.
I'll explain. The reasonable, functioning, intelligent part of me knew it would take a long time to grieve properly over the end of my only serious relationship. I grew up with my ex; I'd never been an adult alone. When he left, I was humiliated. Devastated. Broken. People break up all the time, but to be told you're not good enough and the girl who did weekly sleepovers with you through puberty is? That's personal.
I resolved to stay single for as long as it took to not feel like I failed.
There are eleventy million ways we have to get over a broken heart, new challenges every day. From, oh god, this was our song! to I just found his college t-shirt, and now I'm using it to dry my rejected, lonely tears, you don't get over somebody once. You do it over and over, hourly at first, and then eventually you think of them weekly, monthly, sporadically.
But it doesn't hurt any less simply because time has passed.
Being blindsided by a memory when you're on the 55 to Oxford Street is especially distressing, because you're not prepared. And one of the biggest hurdles of "moving on" is shagging somebody new. So I figured I'd just... do it. Get it over with. Get fucked by a stranger so I'd know what it was like to not be with my ex.
It was a slippery slope (ewwwww). What became a refusal to take my heartache lying down became the opposite. I made being horizontal my job. I couldn't go to a friend's dinner, or the local, or even lead a training session for work without going THAT ONE. I'M GOING HOME WITH THAT ONE. In my imagination I was saying, see, boy who broke me! I won't ever let anybody do that again! I'm emotionally detached and thus a liberated woman!
I'd seen how Samantha Jones did it. Destiny's Child sang songs about how sodding independent I was. Take that, world.
Every time I threw a man out of my bed at 4 a.m. I strengthened something inside myself that promised to never get hurt again, to never invest in somebody again. If I could fuck 'em and leave 'em I was in control. It was my rules, for my protection. The bastard who broke my heart would never get the best of me. Thing is, he was long gone, and it was evident to everybody but me that I was having a conversation in an empty room.
It took a year of celibacy and a stint in an Italian convent to understand the balance. It took eleven months and one week (IT WAS ALMOST A YEAR) to realise three hugely important rules for casual sex:
1. If he has a wife, a girlfriend, or is "going through a breakup", do not have sex with him.
2. If he only texts when it is dark outside, do not have sex with him.
3. If he, at any point, refers to you as a "DTF" or "up for it"- jokingly or otherwise- DO NOT HAVE SEX WITH HIM.
I appreciate that we're all mortal until the second glass of wine and the first kiss, and that sex with strangers can be hot: the most erotic moment of my adult life happened with a man whose name I didn't know, by the loos, at a work event.
But, during my post-breakup period I was having sex because I was angry, with people I didn't respect and who didn't respect me. It's impossible to treat someone like a human being if they refuse to act like one, and so both me, and the men I slept with, I'm sure, were left feeling pretty empty.
Casual sex should be with somebody you actually like. My new rule of thumb is to only shag men I don't mind sleeping over, and am okay with kissing goodbye when they leave. Anyone else isn't worth my time- and if I'm not prepared to make at least that much effort, I'm probably not worth theirs, either.
It's like the ever-wise Christina Aguilera said in her career-defining 2002 track Get Mine, Get Yours: "We'll make love, but not fall in love." That's how to have casual sex without being an ass about it.